University Lectures

Author criticizes food industry, American overeating habits

Lauren Murphy | Asst. Photo Editor

Marion Nestle, author and food activist, speaks about problems within the food industry Tuesday night as part of the University Lectures Series.

An overweight Uncle Sam gripped a hamburger, the words “I want YOU to eat more” below his bulging stomach. The audience, an assortment of Syracuse University community members, erupted in laughter.

The caricature of Uncle Sam was a slide in a presentation by Marion Nestle, an award-winning author and food activist. Nestle delivered her speech, “Food Politics from Farm to Table: A Recipe for Change,” as part of the University Lectures Series on Tuesday at Hendricks Chapel.

The presentation discussed the effects that agricultural policies and economic factors have on the food industry, which forces Americans to overeat.

“You can’t understand anything about food in America, or anywhere else in the world, without thinking about how the agricultural system works,” Nestle said.

The goal of the food industry is to make money while the goal of public health is to make people healthy, Nestle said, and the conflict in these ideas is made apparent by the increase in obesity rates since 1980.

This is when the food industry began to pay farmers to grow as much as they possibly could, which resulted in “mountains of corn in a sea of farm subsidies,” Nestle said.

This, along with the larger portion sizes introduced in the 1980s, Nestle said, played a significant role in rising obesity rates.

“People tend to eat the default,” Nestle said. “They eat what’s in front of them. If the default is larger, people will eat whatever is in it.”

She said the industry encourages food consumption by making food available everywhere.

“My favorite is Staples, which now has a section on office snacks,” Nestle said.

She discussed the large affect of soda companies, which are worried about the implication of soda taxes and are spending millions of dollars fighting it.

Soda companies are also globalizing poor health, Nestle said, by targeting emerging economies with billions of fresh customers, and the simultaneous increase of obesity in these countries is no coincidence.

Nestle said that under all of these circumstances, people often ask her how she can remain optimistic. To this she responds by saying that along with an increase in farmers markets, sales of organics have been rising and food movements are advocating for reform.

“You can take responsibility by voting with your fork every time you make a food choice,” Nestle said.

Kim Liu, a fifth-year student in nutrition science on the pre-med track, said she liked that Nestle discussed how many health problems are related to nutrition, but aren’t resolved because manufacturing companies fight them.

Said Liu: “It’s amazing how much effort they combine to have these unhealthy foods.”

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